At prayer healing services in some Pentecostal churches, pastors invite people infected with HIV to come forward for a public healing, after which they burn the person’s anti-retroviral medications and declare the person cured.
The “cure” is not free, and some people say they
shell out their life savings to receive a miracle blessing and quit
taking the drugs.
“I believe people can be healed of all kinds of
sickness, including HIV, through prayers,” said Pastor Joseph Maina of
Agmo Prayer Mountain, a Pentecostal church on the outskirts of Nairobi.
“We usually guide them. We don’t ask for money, but we ask them to leave
some seed money that they please.”
But the controversial
ceremonies are raising red flags as believers’ conditions worsen, and a
debate has opened over whether science or religion should take the lead
in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.
The issue is not new for
African societies that have grappled with similar matters, such as
whether condoms can prevent transmission of the human immunodeficiency
virus, which causes AIDS.
Some 6.3 million people are receiving
anti-retroviral drugs in hospitals and clinics across eastern and
southern Africa. The prayer healings are especially worrisome because
people who quit treatment may become resistant to the drugs.
(clergy) must demonstrate leadership in this area,” said Jane Ng’ang’a,
who coordinates the Kenya chapter of INERELA+, an interfaith network of
religious leaders living with HIV. “We should be in the forefront,
encouraging adherence to the medicines, as we offer psychological and
mental support to those infected and affected.”